In the midst of an international break and with the domestic leagues just around the…
Although most were able to enjoy another superb weekend of Scottish Premiership football, Graeme Murty will have undoubtedly woke up this morning with a heavy heart and growing concerns over his future as Rangers manager.
The former youth coach has a redeeming ability to put on a smile and project a positive disposition at all times, yet even he would have struggled to spin Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Motherwell as a step in the right direction. Rangers now find themselves level on points and one game ahead of Aberdeen and Derek McInnes.
Indeed, it seems almost inevitable that Murty won’t be the Rangers manager next season. Even if he were to go on a winning streak and secure second place it would take something monumental – like a Scottish Cup trophy – for the board and a large chunk of the fanbase to change their minds.
Yet, while a new coach may be needed and could offer a solution to many of the problems that have dogged Rangers’ season there is undoubtedly a risk that comes with wiping the slate clean in June and starting all over again.
The first and undoubtedly most crucial one is European football and the implications of failing to qualify for yet another campaign in the Europa League. In years gone past clubs were given a full, two months off in the summer to get their house in order but due to the ever-expanding fixture list of UEFA’s competitions any new Rangers manager will be forced to rebuild, train and prepare his new squad for competitive games on June 29. Just six weeks after the final Premiership match of the season.
That may not seem like too big a deal at first, but we need only look back on this season to see how quickly a rushed and ill-equipped coach can stumble at the first hurdle and set a precedent for the remainder of the season. I’m sure we all remember those images of Pedro Caixinha in the hedge, arguing with furious fans against the backdrop of a warm summer’s eve in Luxembourg.
Caixinha, of course, was hired before the end of last season and ultimately proved incapable of doing the job but even the very best managers available to Rangers will surely look at that six-week window and wonder if it’s possible.
Of course, we can’t talk about this potential pressure cooker of an introduction to life at Ibrox without acknowledging that the club itself have pointed out that European football is absolutely crucial to continued funding and investment in the transfer market.
When asked at last year’s AGM about the club’s long-term goals of surviving without loans from the board, Dave King stated: “I think it will still be a couple of years, and I say that as the only way we can be self-reliant is to have continued success in Europe. It’s not enough to qualify for Europe and be knocked-out at the early stages… The only way that we feel that we are sufficiently resourced is to be reasonably sure that we get into the Europa League, get to the knockout stages and occasionally the Champions League.”
Indeed, while Rangers fans may be clamouring for a shot at Celtic in next season’s league campaign, the powers that be are still trying to set a sound, financial footing for the club’s future. And that only works if the manager can get through the qualifiers and reach the groups stages of the Europa League.
In a way the priorities of Rangers’ season ambitions have turned on their head and much like their Parkhead rivals, the Ibrox club are far more concerned about qualifying for European competition than winning or even challenging for the Premiership.
As such, with the benefit of hindsight, the board’s decision to give Murty the job until the end of the season when McInnes rejected an offer in January not only seems bizarre but down-right negligent.
If every fibre and penny at Rangers is currently being steered towards qualifying for next season’s Europa League, then why are they leaving the appointment of a new manager until a month before that vital, first qualifier? Why waste six months letting Murty chop and change a squad only to then bring in someone with their own tactics, preferences and system right before the crucial test?
At this point Rangers fans may wish to point out that after Mark Warburton, Caixinha and now Murty a bit of time and patience is not only appreciated but unquestionably required for the board to pick the right man. And to an extent that’s an absolutely fair assessment of the situation.
However, the inaction shown in January currently has Rangers sitting precariously in second place with both Aberdeen and Hibernian breathing down their neck. And if they’re not careful it may ruin next season before it has even got started.